You Call That Art?

We went to The Broad Museum in Los Angeles in May. It is a museum of contemporary art with works by  Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, among others.  Admission is free, and the place was packed with citizens of all ages. They had a special exhibition called “Soul of a Nation, Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983” curated by the Tate Modern out of London, that Husband went to. He said it was interesting but hard to describe.

Daughter and I viewed the general collection.  It was fun to tell her about Warhol and show her the paintings of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, and the soup cans. The Lichtenstein comic-inspired paintings were far bigger than I ever imagined they would be and were pretty amazing to finally see in person.  She liked all of it, but neither of us quite understood what we were looking at. It is all significant, but I don’t know the reason why. I really don’t know the meaning of the big blue Dachshund made out of plastic or the enormous dining room table and chairs.

What are your experiences with modern art? What are your favorite art works?

37 thoughts on “You Call That Art?”

  1. My interest in music is deeply and permanently bound to melody. I can’t enjoy (or even tolerate) “music” that rejects melody.

    Similarly, my interest in art is deeply and permanently bound to the representation of recognizable objects. Obviously, that shuts me off from much modern art.

    But not all modern art. The Walker Art Center has a huge photographic-ish self portrait by Chuck Close that I find intriguing. Actually, the Walker has several Chuck Close images I can enjoy.

    The Weissman Museum used to have a giant painting of a vast series of chicken coops or cages. That painting terrified me when I saw it. Its memory haunts me now.

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  2. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    There are several associations I have with Modern Art:

    1. LGMS song, A Truckload of Art. It is on a Keepers Collection that I listen to now and then.
    2. A 2011 trip to London and Paris. Saw a great deal of this in the Tate in London where I snapped an illegal photo of a Picasso statue garnering a disapproving facial grimace and a verbal reprimand from a stuffy British guard. ( I still have photo). Then in the Musee d’Orsay, I learned far more about Matisse’s sexual proclivities in Tahiti than I ever wanted to know.
    3. Weisman. There is a painting near the entrance of the museum of a church that I love. It is quite modern in its design, yet eternal.

    My dogs are glaring at me, awaiting the Morning Walk. I must go. Maybe the glares will inspire a pastel picture entitled “Awaitiing the Morning Walk.” Hmmm.

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      1. That is all right. It fell into the category of Too Much Information and Things I Did Not Want to Know.

        And now I am asking myself, was that Matisse, or was it Manet? Now I am unsure.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder, because I’m unaware, if Lichtenstein ever evolved beyond blow-ups of comics or if his art is stuck in a time when everybody was intimately familiar with the crude halftone printing of newspaper funnies and comic books.

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  3. This is such a big question.
    One problem I have with the world of contemporary art is that it is much more akin to fashion than to the realm of aesthetics. Art critics are always looking for the next big thing and the chosen few artists are famous because they are famous. Much of what is celebrated now will be an obscure footnote in a few years when those critics move on to their next “discoveries”. Substantial, contributive art should embody more than a surprise, more than a technical achievement. A giant balloon animal or a giant dining set is surprising, but it transformative? Can we fill the art gallery with giant quotidian objects and call it a day? What does the observer take away from art like that after the surprise fades?

    With much of contemporary culture, I find I have difficulty suspending my disbelief and many aspects of culture seem to require that. Certainly where contemporary art enters into the cult of celebrity, it loses me.
    Lasting art shouldn’t need interpretation by critic promoters; it should speak for itself and if it doesn’t speak to you, that’s not your failure.

    I like to paint and draw but I do it for myself, for the pleasure of the activity. I never had much interest in the show business aspect of art.
    Some abstract art appeals to me—and really, all art is an abstraction of reality—but I respond more to art with some narrative content. I’m equally, and possibly more so, appreciative of skillful, aesthetically executed fine crafts, which I find equally expressive and impressive and more relatable.

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    1. It is my sense that much modern art comes with an elaborate explanation that tells us why we should care about this object. I end up wondering if it is the artistic object people are buying into or the arty theory that is offered to explain it. If an object is beautiful or at least interesting to study, shouldn’t it be able to stand on its own merits? The visual art I enjoy most is a joy to see and needs no attached critical thesis to make me like it.

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      1. that’s like saying politicians should be able to do what they want with only the response as the decision making factor. too many do this now with no regard for bigger picture stuff. if you appeal to the masses you sell birthday cards
        i live in an abstract art mode where i love what i love and scoff at what i don’t
        i am sobpissed that the walker allowed that woman to cut down all the trees at the sculpture garden get rid of some great pieces and replace them with crap
        the blue rooster and the love sculpture hold no merit but are appreciated by those who want to understand but without thought

        love abstract but also impressionist renditions where it’s recognizable but not realistic. rembrandt and the masters had great technique but painted portraits for rich guys to pay the bills
        religious depictions and historical retelling limit the flow
        pollack dekooning kline rothko vangogh and the degas monet manet gang was great
        kandinsky franzen marx, picasso rodin calder modigliani, giacometti henry moore

        i didn’t get warhol and lichtenstein until i did then i saw what they were pointing out and appreciated it

        mondrian mary casset klee chagall dali,

        a great time to be able to see it all so easily,

        in person does give you an appreciation

        lichtenstein’s stuff is a great example

        it is big

        and cool

        miro,devinci, and on and on

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I don’t have much of a relationship with visual art in general – usually relate just to what I have experienced doing (or can imagine experiencing). So for a lot of modern art, I can’t imagine what an artist was doing/thinking when s/he created it. It helps if I have a tour guide or have time to read all the commentary in a museum.

    With music and dance, I have a better grip – I can appreciate the modern to a point, different harmonies and modalities (unless it gets to the point of just making noise).

    I think my favorite visual artist is Van Gogh… I’ve never taken an art course (which explains a lot – sigh) – I know he’s an impressionist, which I assume is not considered modern. ?

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    1. Most folks, I believe, wouldn’t call the impressionists modern. They painted in the 19th century, starting about 1860. The first anniversary gift my mother gave my father, an artist, was a large volume filled with Van Gogh’s work. It must have been hideously expensive when she got it, and I’ll bet she bought it in installments. I grew up loving his art.

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  5. I have a really complicated relationship with modern art. For those of you who’ve been to my house, you know that I have several pieces that fit into that genre. But it really has to speak to me.

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  6. Terms such as “modern art” seems perhaps overly broad and inclusive to me. At the age of 76, I find that when I think of modern art, much of the art that comes to mind was created by artists born in the 1800s. Picasso, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, the list goes on and on. Contemporary art on the other hand would exclude them if I understand the term correctly.

    I’m not sure I agree with Bill’s assertion that “lasting art shouldn’t need interpretation by critic promoters; it should speak for itself and if it doesn’t speak to you, that’s not your failure.” Seems to me a bit of a loaded statement. A piece of art, any art, may or may not resonate with an individual, but I don’t think that’s the artist’s responsibility, or to be cynical about it, the “critic promoters’. ” I don’t necessarily see it as an individual failure, either, if you fail to appreciate a certain artists work. Chuck Close, for instance, who Steve mentioned above, is a case in point. I, too, find his work intriguing, but it’s not art I would personally choose to surround myself with. It’s just not my cup of tea.

    One piece of contemporary art that I find extremely powerful is Do-Ho Suh’s sculpture Some/One. It’s on display at the MIA. It’s a sculpture that challenges the viewer on several levels; it makes you think. I like art that does that.

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    1. I feel like you misinterpret what I said or meant to say. I certainly didn’t intend to suggest that artists should pander to broad public appeal; artists need to do what they do. But I believe that art needs to stand on its own two feet. It can speak to you or not—that may be a visceral reaction or it may be a result of your personal exposure and experiences. No two people will react precisely the same. But if an artwork doesn’t speak to you, how can you know if it speaks to anyone?
      What would be the point of a putative artwork that doesn’t speak to anyone?

      There is a species of contemporary art that spurs in me an “emperor’s new clothes” reaction, the balloon dog and the giant table being examples, and despite its presence in a prestigious gallery or the insistence of the art critic du jour that it represents a bold and significant breakthrough, neither is very convincing to me. The critic’s statement is ephemeral. Ultimately, the artwork stands on its own merits.

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      1. Essentially, I think we agree, Bill. I’m perhaps less inclined than you to absolve the viewer or consumer of art for all responsibility in the process of art appreciation. No question, some art is a lot more approachable than other, but sometimes that little bit of research or effort may be key to whether or not a piece speaks to you, or certainly, what it says to you.

        Take a painting like Picasso’s Guernica, for instance. If you don’t know what Picasso was trying to convey in that painting, you’re more likely to dismiss it. My dad, rest his soul, was convinced that Picasso was merely trying to pull the wool over our eyes, or as you expressed it “emperor’s new clothes.” To my mind, there’s no question that it was dad who missed the boat on that one.

        The sculpture by Do-Ho Suh that I mentioned above is another good example. If in viewing it, you don’t pick up on that it’s mainly constructed of stainless steel military dog tags, your understanding of the piece will be profoundly affected and limited. You may still like it, but essentially you will have missed the greater message of the piece.

        If you approach a work like James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake with the idea that it’s a joke, you’ll not put forth the effort that it takes to try to understand it. If, on the other hand, you consider that Joyce spent seventeen years of his life writing it, and it wasn’t published until two years before his death, you’re more likely to try to discover what he was attempting to do. Having spent one whole quarter at SIU wading through this piece of literature under the guidance of on the best teachers I’ve ever had, I can’t claim to understand it. But I can say that I’m much more inclined to give Joyce the benefit of the doubt.

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        1. That’s true of anything complex and multifaceted. You have to invest in understanding its history and intent to get a broader understanding of its meaning.
          I’ve been engaged for the past few years in a deep dive into nineteenth century literary humor. Most casual readers would say, upon reading a little of it, “that’s not funny”. And it isn’t, for the most part, unless you understand the topical references and the sensibility. But humor is valuable because, by its nature, it’s subversive and its aimed at what ordinary people were thinking about and understood without explanation. The references we don’t get are exactly the things we need to learn if we want to understand that particular society and history at the level of the individual as opposed to history at the level of the politician and the general.

          At the same time, there are myriad topics, like Joyce, that are nearly inaccessible without extensive study. You have to pick your battles. Life is too short.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. I love the photo in the header, Renee. Nice touch.

    Whenever I would take my friend, Ken, to the MIA, we’d go see Yoshitomo Nara’s sculpture Your Dog. Something about that dog really spoke to Ken, a graphic artist by trade, but lost in deep dementia. I had to keep a close watch on him, however, because he wanted to touch that dog, and, of course, that’s a big no-no.

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    1. Do you remember what was in the exhibit?

      I remember seeing an exhibit of “folk art” there. And I loved it. This would have been over forty years ago, I’m sure.

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  8. I have a membership at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center, where they have two Matisse paintings. I suppose they would be considered modern – they appear to be works that he painted later in life. I like the movement and sense of chaos in the images. And it’s kind of neat to see art in a place that’s not a museum. The people who work there can go look at a Matisse when they’ve finished restocking the towels in the fitness center.

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    1. The law firm where I worked had a secondary lobby with a wall displaying a series of Picasso lithographs. Sixteen of them, if I remember correctly. I loved that; it was a determining factor in my decision to accept their job offer. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked that had original works of art throughout the offices, not the usual “corporate” copies of art that didn’t offend anyone.

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